By Jane A. Marlowe
Have you been on a cruise lately? A world cruise? For more than 100 days? We haven’t either but my friend, Judy and I were invited recently to lunch on a cruise ship which had been the luxurious home of her cousin and her husband for 100 + days.
The Crystal Serenity docked in Port of the Everglades, Ft. Lauderdale for a day in early May before continuing north to Charleston, South Carolina and its final destination, New York City. The ship is one of two owned by Crystal Cruise Lines which offer world cruises as well as shorter trips from 12 to 24 days. The ship’s capacity is just over 1,000 guests with one of the highest staff to guest ratios in the industry.
Helen Burke, Judy’s cousin, welcomed us to the terminal building and escorted us through security and on to the ship. We joined her husband, Allan King, for drinks in the Bistro Café. Allan told us that the steward brought him his favorite soft drink as soon as he sat down. Such personal service is not at all unusual. The ship’s staff becomes familiar with the guests’ preferences and is recognized in the industry for unparalleled service.
Our hosts showed us around several public areas of the ship, all beautifully appointed with fine furnishings, comfortable chairs and sofas in conversational groupings. There were lovely objects on display, with an interesting collection of art on the walls. Brass fittings were polished to a high finish, glass surfaces were spotless. Every corner of the six star cruise ship was immaculate.
The Crystal Serenity, a great lady of the sea, is dedicated to a great lady of the stage and movie industry, Julie Andrews, whose portrait graces one of the main salons on board. There is a reception desk staffed at all times to accommodate the needs of the guests and assist them with every detail of their voyage.
There is much to do on board between destinations from classes offered by the Creative Learning Institute in language, art, music, history, Computer University @Sea, golf, aerobics, paddle tennis and, of course, state of the art pools and spas to relax and enjoy the extraordinary experience of life at sea.
We enjoyed luncheon in the Crystal Dining Room, one of several superb restaurants on the Serenity. Attention to detail was gracious and unobtrusive. The maitre d’ escorted us to Helen and Allan’s favorite table, confirming they wanted their usual beverages and inquiring about our preferences. We were served almost before we finished our request!
The menu was Continental, our meals served on beautiful china, fine linen graced the table. Fresh flowers were on every table and large vases filled with beautiful bouquets were on the banquettes around the elegant dining room. Other guests offered greetings as they passed our table suggesting gathering for cocktails later in the day. There was a friendly, convivial atmosphere one would find in a club or favorite restaurant at home.
Allan explained. “The world travelers aboard are known as cruisers. We become quite friendly with one another and some of us have met before on other trips. We often discover we have common interests as well as travel and we really become a community on board ship.”
Of the 900 or so guests aboard just under 300 are world cruisers on this particular trip. This is Allan and Helen’s ninth world cruise. Allan commented. “We don’t own a winter home in Florida and when we discovered cruising several years ago, we both liked this form of vacationing. We like each other and enjoy each other’s company. We like to participate in the same cultural and educational opportunities available and we have made some very good friends on our cruises.”
What a lovely compliment to Helen from her husband of 30 + years! They make their land based home in Princeton, New Jersey. Allan is an Episcopal priest, retired from his ministry and Helen is retired from the corporate world. Their family lives in Wisconsin and when they arrive home their next “port of call” will be a family visit.
Allan and Helen began this particular cruise in Los Angeles. Crystal Cruises arranged first class air travel and they were guests of the company at the Beverly Hills Bel Air Hotel. Private chauffeured car service was provided from their home to the airport on the east coast and in Los Angeles, from the airport to their hotel. The same service awaits them at the end of their trip in New York. The couple met most of their cruising companions at a Pre-Cruise Gala Dinner in Los Angeles the evening before the cruise set sail.
The ship returned to Los Angeles at the end of the world cruise and they opted to remain on board for the ship’s journey south through the Panama Canal into the Gulf of Mexico to the east coast of Florida and north to New York. This part of the trip is optional and they were glad to remain aboard for the additional several days.
Crystal Cruises world cruise guests receive many unique amenities, not least of which is the promise of two exclusive land based events on each cruise. A few years ago Allan and Helen’s cruise included a stop in Dubai. The cruisers were bussed into the desert some distance from their hotels. When the busses came to a stop, the guests stepped down on to gorgeous Oriental rugs which led beyond high dunes to an amazing sight. There in the middle of the desert were sofas and tables set with fine crystal, china and silver.
A superb dinner, catered by one of Dubai’s best hotels, was served by waiters in formal attire. Music was provided for after dinner dancing. Suddenly a fountain rose up and a wall of water appeared as if out of the desert floor. Men on horseback in authentic Arabian dress cantered back and forth and the surprised guests were treated to a performance of the movie, Lawrence of Arabia right on the wall of water. Fireworks followed the movie to conclude an unbelievable, thrilling night in the Arabian Desert.
Helen and Allan recounted many other unique evenings of entertainment arranged by Crystal Cruises including a brilliant theater performance in Melbourne, Australia and a time travel film on multiple screens integrated with live actors in Shanghai, China.
On this most recent trip, Helen and Allan became ill with flu like symptoms. The ship was docked in the Chinese harbor of Xiamen. Ships are required by Chinese authorities to submit a written list of any passengers who exhibit illness before any passengers are allowed to disembark. The health officer informed port authorities that two guests were sick and very promptly the Serenity was boarded by Xiamen Inspection and Quarantine Bureau officers. Helen and Allan were examined, tested and treated with antiviral medication.
Later in the day, Xiamen officials required the patients’ removal from their stateroom in order to fumigate the room. Experts, attired in Haz Mat suits, came aboard and sterilized the room while all passengers remained aboard. Then Helen and Allan were allowed to return to their stateroom but were driven out by the strong fumes of the cleaning materials. They were provided with other accommodations and all their belongings cleaned and restored to usefulness by the ship’s laundry.
Their adventure was duly noted on the Xiamen News website with a picture of the ship under the headline: Xiamen officers provide rescue to swine flu patients on “Crystal Serenity” The couple took their “notoriety” in stride and now have an unusual shipboard story to tell their family and friends.
Judy and I had a wonderful meander across the state, a visit to an elegant cruise ship, time with family, fascinating stories, fine dining and home again to our own Paradise. A very pleasant day away.